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August 2021

Kiki’s Delivery Service

It’s been quite a summer for me. I hit a milestone birthday, got promoted at my part-time job and am now down to 1 (ONE!) full-time job, and just this past weekend: moved into my husband’s and mine first house.

My body still aches from moving – I’m not as young as I used to be 😉 Not being able to go to the gym for over a year couldn’t have helped either. So this morning instead of unpacking more I had a feeling I needed to watch a Ghibli movie. Howl’s Moving Castle is my favorite, but – it didn’t seem right. Kiki was calling my name for some reason. So I curled up on the couch and clicked “Play.”

Kiki is a witch who has been waiting for the perfect night to leave home. As is tradition, 13-year-old witches leave their homes for a year to begin their training. On a clear midnight under a full moon, Kiki and her black cat Jiji take off on her mother’s broom and are drawn to a city on the southern coast near the sea. While searching for a place to live, they witness a baker attempting to give back a pacifier one of her customers dropped. Kiki offers to deliver it on her broomstick, and the rest, as they say, is history. The baker, Osono, gives Kiki her attic room and use of her phone for Kiki’s new flying delivery service in exchange for occasional help around the bakery. As time goes on, Kiki and Jiji gain customers, make deliveries, and find friends in aviation enthusiast Tombo and painter Ursula. After a delivery gone wrong, Kiki becomes depressed and slowly begins to lose her powers: flight and talking to Jiji. Will she be able to recover them and resume deliveries?

I see why I was drawn to this movie: it was just what I needed. Kiki is finding her independence and becoming self-reliant, but she also needs help occasionally from her loved ones. When she starts to lose her powers, she needs to look inside herself and find her inspiration again. After her introspective period, she doesn’t go back to exactly how she was before. She still can’t talk to Jiji, but she adjusts and accepts it. In her letter to her parents, she admits that while she’s having a great time and finding her way, she still gets homesick. By the end of the movie, she has grown through her “artist’s block” (as it were) and learned to be vulnerable and ask for and accept help when needed and offered – while still maintaining her independence.

The animation – oh, the animation! – is just lovely. It has a painterly feel to it. There are multiple points throughout the movie where there is just a pause. A pause to take in the scenery, or the character standing still. These points taking place in Kiki’s attic room reminded me of Johannes Vermeer’s paintings, most of which he composed and worked on in his attic room in Delft. While the characters’ movements and expressions are buttery-smooth, the big draw of these films for me are the scenery and attention to detail of everyday life. You can smell the bread and pastries in Osono’s bakery. You can feel and smell the wind coming off the sunlit sea. I was astounded by the sound direction: the pattering of Jiji’s feet on a wood floor, Tombo’s voice being distorted through the propeller on his invention. The thing that makes Ghibli movies so successful and immersive is this high attention to detail.

Immersed I was, so immersed that I’m fully awake, fixed my tea, and am rolling up my sleeves (well, I would if I weren’t wearing a tank top) to get cracking on unpacking before my second first day at work tomorrow. Just like Kiki, I have found my inspiration and am ecstatic to be starting many new chapters of my life all at the same time.

Kathleen

Miyazaki, Hayao. Kiki’s Delivery Service. Original Japanese release 1989; English dub released 1997.

Once & Future: The Parliament of Magpies

This third volume of the Once & Future series is as strong as the first two, and I am loving these twisted King Arthur tales!

The story starts out innocently (I’m not fooled), as Gran relaxes with one of her many cigs out on the patio of her senior home, when six magpies fly to her. She recites two nursery rhymes that would correlate with the six birds and realizes they are a bad omen of what is to come. Of course the colored orbs surrounding them is always a clue that magic and mayhem are around the corner. She calls her hunky ginger grandson Duncan over to help and he brings along his love interest Rose along as she has some foretelling powers.

While the story continues with a dark King Arthur and Merlin, some other English tales and characters are incorporated- such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Elaine of Astolat and Elaine of Corbenic. All of these mentions made me have to look up Wikipedia entries on them all, as my knowledge of Arthurian tales is rather scant. The way that Gran, Duncan, Rose, and Duncan’s mother Mary twist all of these legends around to suit them can be a bit confusing, yet it works. Rose is incorporated more into this story, as she takes charge of a beheading and then later befriending a flying dragon.

The concluding pages seem to put Arthur and Merlin to rest, but of course there is a twist that brings them alive once more. And now because of someone’s stupidity, the dark magic is out in the world for everyone to see, not just monster hunters and sinister government agencies. The strange creatures on the last page are creepily awesome. I look forward to what author Kieron Gillen and artist Dan Mora have planned next for readers!

-Nancy

Make sure you read The King Is Undead (V1) and Old English (V2)

A simple nursery rhyme foretells the chaos to come!

Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human

“So… what is sex? Are there different forms of it? What counts as sex?” “What if I don’t like it?!” “What is consent and how to I give/get it?” “What if I’m not sure of my gender identity or sexuality yet?” “Why won’t anyone give me straight advice about relationships?!”

If you’re asking any of these questions and/or looking for sex ed in comic book form: this is for you. But it’s also so much more! Each individual chapter addresses the above questions, plus:

  • Body positivity and how to talk kindly to yourself about your body (but also in general!)
  • Masturbation and the different forms it can take
  • How to have safe sex, including what methods are good for preventing pregnancy and which are good for preventing STIs
  • Kinks, fantasies, and aftercare
  • Dealing with emotions such as jealousy and rejection

Each chapter is a conversation between two to four individuals about these topics. The characters are either friends, significant others, or siblings. All are presented as teenagers or college students, so each character is discussing with their peers. That was awesome! I think generations younger than I are becoming more comfortable with having these frank conversations with people they trust, and it was wonderful to have that shown! Also shown were a vast array of body types, including skin color, sizes, and differently abled! It reinforced the chapter on body positivity in a wonderfully passive way!

There were helpful (and anatomically correct) diagrams and illustrations throughout. There is also an index and a resources section at the back. Overall the language was plain and straightforward, though with some slang that (I felt) was a touch overused and will be outdated quickly.

Overall this was a very informative graphic novel that is presented in a no-nonsense, yet conversational and easy to understand manner. I think it’ll be easier for teens to digest this graphic novel – presented as conversations between peers of all types – rather than a more traditional or drier sex-ed book. Highly recommended for all YA library collections.

– Kathleen

Moen, Erika, and Matthew Nolan. Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human. 2021.

Invincible: Ultimate Volumes Seven & Eight

Invincible remains strong in these middle volumes! Sometimes a series can get wobbly in the middle, but instead, I feel the plot threads are tightening up as we move closer to the conclusion.

Volume Seven:

The first half dealt with the Viltrumite War and took place almost exclusively off-Earth. Nolan reveals himself to Debbie and Oliver, and while Oliver is thrilled to see his father, Debbie is justifiably distraught to see the man who betrayed her. Nolan takes his two sons to fight his kin and there is a funny Star Trek: TNG joke (although at their expensense- please don’t mock my beloved TNG!) and soon enough they encounter the Viltrumites. Epic war scenes that had six awesome two-page spreads to convey the chaos of space fighting. They finally reach a stale-mate as the two sides can’t seem to win- but the Viltrumite retreat does not mean Invincible and his allies won. A Sophie’s-choice is made in the end to Mark’s sorrow. But they are alive, ready to battle another day…

Now that the Viltrumite invasion is on the back-burner Nolan tries to reconcile with his estranged wife, whose heart he broke and Debbie seems open to it, so they both leave for outer space to see if they can salvage their relationship and also to visit Oliver who is recovering from the war. This leaves Mark & Eve to work through their issues after Mark’s long absence, and Mark learns of a hard decision that Eve had to make while he was gone. Mark had previously been furious at Cecil for making hard morally-grey decisions, but now he too makes certain choices with villains that may pay off in the long-term, even if it doesn’t look good in the short-term.

Robot (now called Rex) and Monster Girl return from the Flaxans dimension they transported to and come back grown up and are obviously reeling from some trauma that occured to them while there. Mark & Eve visit married couple Immortal and Kate who are now parents, and I have to say Kate is a b*tch! What does Immortal see in her? There is an odd side plot about Eve gaining weight and we find out that William and Rick are now dating.

Volume Eight:

Allen the Alien is now the leader of the Coalition of Planets and wants to take a hard line with the remaining Viltrumites on Earth, much to Nolan and Mark’s dismay. Oliver, who feels no love for Earth, sides with Allen but everything comes to a stalemate when Thragg learns of their mission. But Mark gets hurt in the melee and has his powers dissipate which then ties into Bulletproof having to wear Mark’s costume to keep up appearances on Earth. Mark utilizes Dinosaurus in some long-range plans but underestimates how they can truly work together. Nolan and Debbie have reconciled, and they reconcile over & over & over again if you get my drift. Poor Oliver gets an earful one night and there is a funny visual of him covering his ears the way Nolan had to in a previous book when staying at Allen’s.

However, the most epic storyline is Robot and Monster Girl’s as we finally find out what happened to the duo when they went through the portal during one of the semi-regular invasions by the Flaxans. On Earth, they were only missing a few months, but in the Flaxans dimension, they were there 700 years and led a coup against the corrupt government there. When they came back they told team members they were there 12 years, but so very much happened while there including love, betrayal and trauma. A nasty surprise is revealed during the next Flaxans invasion on Earth, surprising the pair who thought they left the planet in a peaceful state. But that surprise is nothing compared to the last page that divulges an ugly secret and what you thought about one character’s motives is completely upended.

Ottley’s and Walker’s art is better melded in this book, as Ottley draws the Earth scenes while Walker drew the Flaxans scenes. Amanda (Monster Girl) has a cool Queen Amidala vibe going, with elaborate hairdos and outfits while she is the Queen Consort with Rex. Awesomely drawn fight scenes and weird monsters, villains and aliens remain a strong suit in this series.

-Nancy

Allergic: A Graphic Novel

On her 10th birthday, Maggie and her family go to their local shelter adopt a puppy! She’s wanted absolutely nothing more for a very long time. But just as they find the perfect puppy and meet him, Maggie starts feeling sick. Her skin starts itching, her face swells up, and she can’t stop sneezing. So she ends up going to the doctor on her birthday. Later, at an allergy doctor, Maggie takes a scratch test and has an unusually strong reaction to most animals. The doctor advises Maggie to stay away from animals and pets until they can start her allergy shots. Maggie is devastated. With a new baby on the way, a new school, and her twin brothers having each other, Maggie feels all alone. A new girl named Claire moves in next door and things start looking up – until Claire gets a puppy. Can they still be friends even though Maggie feels betrayed?

There was so much more to the story than the main character discovering animal allergies. All kinds of big changes are happening around Maggie and she’s not sure how to deal with them at first. Change, of course, is inevitable, and there are multiple coping strategies shown. Taking deep breaths is reiterated throughout the novel, which we see helping not only Maggie, but other characters too! We also see Maggie talking to others about how she feels. While this doesn’t fix some things, it does help her to process them and see the positive side. In the case of her allergies, she starts to get shots which will make her reactions less severe over time. While she’ll never be cured, she can learn to live with it.

This was a middle-grade graphic novel, so it was broken up into chapters and the art was round and cutesy. I thought the chapters where Maggie go to the doctor were excellent. Everything Maggie went through was explained simply, accurately, and with compassion to ease fear and anxiety! Heck, even I’ve developed allergies in my old age and went through the same thing a few years ago, and even I felt better =P

This sweet story starts out with an allergy, but ends up being so much more. Maggie deals with a lot of changes at the same time, grows through them, and ends up finding that things might even be better than they were where we started off.

– Kathleen

Wagner Lloyd, Megan, and Michelle Mee Nutter. Allergic: A Graphic Novel. 2021.

Free Comic Book Day 2021

For the second year in a row, Free Comic Book Day had to be adapted due to the ongoing pandemic situation. Normally FCBD is the first Saturday in May, but an August date was selected for the 20th year anniversary of this event. I distributed comics at my library today, and did so outside to be on the safe side. I had terrific teen volunteers who helped, and we had over 85+ people stop by to pick up comics in our small town, so it was a successful event! A bonus to having FCBD at my library is getting a sneak peek at the comics available, and the following were the ones I choose.

Every year I choose a Spider Man comic, as you can’t go wrong with Spidey! This issue features Ben Reilly as the Scarlet Spider, someone I unfamiliar with, although I know there are more versions beyond Peter and Miles. It was a good introduction to Ben’s story, and will give readers time to look up info about him (like I did) before diving into a longer story with him. The second half of the comic was about Venom, Edward Brock, who when bonded with his symbiote is the King in Black. I often get Venom and Carnage mixed up, but Venom is more an anti-hero vs Carnage being a straight out villain.

Another automatic gimmie each year is the Avengers. This year’s story is a multi-verse tale (not typically a fav plot for me) and has cybernetic Deathloks who seems to be have some hero characteristics. They are waiting in a space station for a signal and then all leave at once to head to different Earth dimensions where they encounter different types of situations. The second half is a Hulk story who is battling the very weird big-headed M.O.D.O.K. The Hulk seems to be tired of the same old shit and decides to strike out his own into space, obviously setting him up for brand new adventures. I was happy to see an ad for the Wastelanders: Old Man Star-Lord podcast that I recently listened to and liked in-between the two stories.

This last comic for me is from the world of Something is Killing the Children, and expands on the society of monster-killers that Erica belongs to. Erica’s work in Wisconsin is suspect and her mentor Aaron is sent to rein her in. Some artwork is used from the graphic novels in this comic, but it is fleshed out with additional information to paint a larger picture of what to expect in volume three.

This is the least amount of comics I have selected from Free Comic Book Day- I just wasn’t feeling it this year, and not having DC as part of it anymore is a blow. But nevertheless, I was happy to provide FCBD to my library patrons, and hope that next year we can have a bigger event once pandemic restrictions have lifted.

-Nancy

Hex Wives

Stepford Wives meets Bewitched in this tale of witchcraft and revenge!

The book opens in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 as several women accused of witchcraft are trying to escape from their captors, again in 1777 in New York and then in Wyoming in 1873. The witches reincarnate in different eras, and we once again see them in New Orleans in 2005 but this time the witch hunters have a secret weapon to utilize against them.

We are then introduced to a group of ladies, who all live in the same cul-de-sac, five women and one teen daughter who all wear dresses and serve their men folk. Isadora is the focus and while it is obvious she is brain washed she seems to love and care for her husband Aaron. The men supposedly all work together as architects, but seem to always reappear at moments when the women have unexplained occurrences or little clues slip through that all is not what it seems. One of the women has an accident while gardening, and the blood shed makes her levitate. The “husbands” swoop in to do damage control, but eventually all the women discover their powers and there is hell to pay for the deception perpetrated by the men.

Fire was a motif throughout, as the witches were attacked with fire in the different historical eras and the supposed wildfires that surrounded their neighborhood in modern day that always kept them confined to their homes. The women are enticingly drawn and made to appeal to the male gaze as Stepford-type wives. One of the women seems to be forgotten through the majority of the story, so I don’t know if that was an author or artist mistake but it became distracting for me that she was always missing. There were many panels per page, but they were varied and easy to follow and the full-page chapter breaks were always excellent.

The story obviously has a feminist bent, and the theme of overthrowing the patriarchy is the framework. Considering what the author was going for, I was surprised that the sexual assaults were not adequately addressed- for these men were sleeping with the women when they were not in their right minds. While there were some conversations about sex, the message was very muddled. While I assume this was supposed to be the first volume in a new series, I have not seen a sequel, and thus this story fell flat for me. The cliffhanger and unexplained plot threads could have been fleshed out and explained in future volumes so instead this unintended standalone was a letdown.

-Nancy

Seen: True Stories of Marginalized Trailblazers: Rachel Carson

The second volume in the Seen series focuses on Rachel Carson, whose writings and accomplishments on environmental issues eventually led to the creation of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in the United States. As a little girl, Rachel loved nature. She acquired a bachelor’s degree in biology, and a master’s in zoology and genetics. While working as a typist as a young adult during the Great Depression, she publishes her first article, then her first book, which unfortunately becomes overshadowed by World War II. She publishes her second book, The Sea Around Us, after the discovery and widespread usage of DDT. She goes on to publish her most famous work: Silent Spring.

Though Rachel faced public disbelief and outrage for her work, she never let it sway her. She let the facts, and sometimes lack of facts (lack of long-term effects of pesticides, for example) speak for themselves. She did her best to emphasize the potential consequences for humans as well as plants, animals, and insects. We are all connected in a symbiotic relationship and what affects one of us will affect the others. This is what Rachel strove to get us to understand before she passed away prematurely at 56 from cancer. Though she lived a short life, she lived a full one defending and speaking out about her passion.

Just like the first volume about Edmonia Lewis, the illustrations are no-fuss. There is also a bibliography and teaching guide at the end. This book is instead written in first-person as if Rachel was writing or speaking to us, as opposed to the third-person narration from Edmonia’s volume.

A wonderful second installment in a most welcome and informative series! Looking forward to the next volume.

– Kathleen

Willis, Birdie, Rii Abrego, and Kieran Quigley. Seen: True Stories of Marginalized Trailblazers: Rachel Carson. 2021.

Invincible: Ultimate Volumes Five & Six

I’m half-way through the entire Invincible series! Mark has proved to be a flawed but very appealing superhero and the action never stops!

Volume Five:

This fifth volume has the theme of- who can you trust- as Mark grapples with Cecil Stedman, the leader of the Global Defense Agency. Mark has always followed Cecil’s commands, but Cecil’s use of the Reanimen and the looking past of Darkwing’s murderous past, show that he is morally corrupt. Another example is when Mark teams with the Wolf Man who has been wrongly accused of a crime, and Cecil won’t help out, because he feels he can not gain anything from him like he can from Darkwing. During this time Mark’s younger brother Oliver has acquired his powers and wants to start fighting villains, so Mark steps up to teach him how to utilize them, but Oliver himself makes questionable decisions, as he admits that he is not human and not subject to their morality. A bright spot is his deepening relationship with Eve and that the former Teen Team sides with him as they too realize that Cecil can’t be trusted. And in a parallel story, Allen the Alien and Omni-Man team up to break free of the spaceship they are imprisoned in and a secret is revealed about the Viltrumites. But what is Angstrom Levy planning…

Artist Ryan Ottley has really hit his stride with the illustrations. I liked the costume change (although the yellow was iconic) so he wouldn’t clash with Oliver’s new costume, which paid homage to Robin’s (DC) costume. Loved the 16-panel grid showing Invincible’s look in other multi-universes! 

Volume Six:

I am now halfway through this series, and it has hit its stride- Mark is no longer a new superhero, instead, he is an established warrior grappling with moral decisions of whether it is right to kill a villain or not. Levy sends dozens of Invincibles from other dimensions to attack Mark and the entire globe so every single Image hero is called into action to combat them. Two important heroes make the ultimate sacrifice to fight them, and cities across the world are left in ruins with millions of innocent bystanders killed during these battles. If that’s not bad enough, the Viltrumite Empire sends one of their deadliest soldiers, Conquest, after Mark. Their fight was excessively long and bloody. In another part of the universe Allen and Omni-Man team together after their escape and make plans to prepare weapons and allies for the impending war with the Viltrumites who want to take over Earth and breed with them to strengthen their dwindling numbers. In the aftermath of the two earlier battles the little pink aliens from Mars are planning their own conquest- poor Earth is just always under siege!

The illustrations style shifted a bit in the last half of the book, as original artist Walker drew parts of the story, but I have to admit I much prefer Ottley’s work now. Walker’s Omni Man and Eve’s faces were especially different and not to my liking. This series pulls together so many different plot threads and themes- it can be a bit much. It can veer between gore, campy fun and poignant emotional moments in just a few pages or even panels, giving me whiplash sometimes. Nevertheless, this first half of the series has been a romp and I look forward to the last half.

-Nancy

Sixteen different versions of Invincible!

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